The energy in Sanford Stadium was built up early on. Fans in the student section yelled and booed South Carolina players each and every time they came to and from their corner tunnel in pre-game warmups. The noise level from the crowd was noticeably louder than last week in the Bulldogs’ 56-7 throttling of UAB.
And once play on the field started, the Bulldog faithful only had more to cheer for as No. 2 Georgia routed South Carolina 40-13. The Bulldogs’ offense totaled 491 yards, successfully finding a balance for its rushing attack mixed with big plays through the air.
“I actually thought we ran the ball better tonight,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. “We rushed for 184 [yards]. It didn’t seem like a struggle as much to run the ball as it did against UAB. So statistically, I was proud of our ability to run the ball. I thought our backs made some people miss, so I’m not down on the run game tonight. I thought we improved there.”
On the first drive of the game, Georgia went down and scored in six plays, capped off by a 23-yard touchdown run right up the middle by James Cook to put the Bulldogs on the board first. That run by Cook was longer than any rush that Georgia had last week.
Offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer said earlier in the week that Georgia’s relative struggles in the run game came from a lack of “attention to detail.” It seemed that the Bulldogs came out with that on their priority list, running the ball well for most of the night while finding a way to get all four backs involved.
“As far as attention to detail, that was something that we were really harping on in practice this week,” said center Warren Ericson. “Where is our pad level gonna be at, our hand placement, running our feet, finishing blocks, attention to detail in pass pro, where our hands go and keeping our head out, so all types of things as far as attention to detail we try to hone in on. I think they showed up today and tonight.”
For the second week in a row, Todd Monken’s offense was able to produce explosive plays, another term that Georgia players and coaches emphasize a lot. JT Daniels did not miss a beat in his return at quarterback, throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
A big reason for the offense’s success on Saturday was the ability to convert third downs, which the Bulldogs did on nine-of-12 third-down attempts. Oftentimes, those conversions were on pass plays, where Daniels and his receivers just seemed to be in sync all night. Nine different Georgia players caught a pass in the win over the Gamecocks.
“Everybody did a great job in terms of executing their job,” said Daniels. “Nobody did too much and nobody did not enough, and that’s what happens when you do that on third down. It’s definitely toughest to do on third down when you have a certain yard line that you have to get, especially when you’re in third and long. But when 11 players execute, that’s what it looks like.”
If Georgia continues to be this successful through the air, they will not need the running game to be as strong as years past, but simply a compliment when defenses try to take away Daniels’ ability to go over the top to his receivers.
It was not a flawless offensive performance for Georgia. The Bulldogs turned the ball over three times, two via interception and one on a fumble lost by Kendall Milton. Smart said that his team cannot afford to do that in the future.
“We will not be a successful team if we turn the ball over three times,” said Smart. “I don’t care if we get three. We can’t throw two interceptions and fumble one and beat good football teams. That’s a fact. That will keep me from being satisfied or pleased.”
Again, there were flaws but Georgia put together a near complete offensive performance against an SEC foe that beat them two years ago in Athens. The defense continued to show its dominance and the Bulldogs hopefully have their starting quarterback healthy enough to lead them the rest of the way.
Now, they’ll look to build upon the momentum in Nashville against a Vanderbilt squad that will finish at the bottom of the SEC standings.